The Little Things: thoughts on race, compliance and subtle discrimination

Black_businessman among whitesI don’t usually write on issues of race and for good reason: it tends to garner heated debate, polarized perspectives and people talking past one another. In “post-racial” America, its tough to talk about issues of oppression and injustice because of all the progress Blacks have made in this country. After all, slavery ended 150 years ago, Jim Crow is over, the “Whites Only” signs have been removed, schools are integrated, and Blacks have risen to prominent stations in society.

Everything seems to be ok until something happens…like Ferguson and now Eric Garner. Then issues of race rise to the surface. Then something happens, I’ve noticed, something subtle yet prominent. There is still an undercurrent of inequality and trickles of suppression in drips of dispositions towards these kinds of incidences.

The premise of racism in America has been built on perception and belief that the Negro was inferior to Whites. It was ok to ship men, women and children like cattle and sell them off like property. For a country that was founded on the premise that all men were created equal, that equality came with a qualification for Blacks as the sub-dominant group. Sure there were free Blacks, but freedom was only free as long as it was granted.

As the dominant group, Whites also wrote the narrative for parameters and progress. Whatever Blacks had, they were allowed to have with the expectation of gratitude towards the giver, especially acute in places of slavery. There was also an firm expectation of compliance.

Go along to get along. Know your place. Lower your eyes. Don’t make waves. The negro dare not rebel or face the consequences.

black waiter serving whitesAs a race, Blacks were deemed by many to be inferior to Whites, not capable of carry out the same citizenry nor deserving of the same rights. Sadly, this was even justified by well-meaning Christians who used mis-applications of Scripture to justify inequality. Accomplishments and talent tended to be overlooked and only recognized if it was written into the narrative. Slavery ended, but the narrative continued.

Sure there has been progress along the way. Absolutely, the post-Civil rights era has seen significant accomplishments and opportunities. I mean, we even have a Black president! But sadly, the undercurrent of the narrative continues. It’s not overt. It is subtle. It comes out in the way issues of race are addressed. When events like Ferguson happen and Blacks cry fowl because of trends of disparate treatment, you can hear the song of the narrative lilting through streams of innocent comments, kind of like these;

“Of course, its not racial”

“Of course the police officer was justified in subduing an animal” (note description of calling Brown “it” and “like a demon”.

“Why are you upset? Look at the facts!”

The other day, I came across a comment that framed it aftermath as “Blacks not getting their way and getting upset about it.” Yes, that’s it. We are not getting our way and just crying over nothing and need to be quiet.

Go along to get along. Know your place. Don’t make waves.

Regardless of what went down that day and Brown’s culpability in the matter, there is something telling in the disparity of experiences between police action towards Whites vs. Blacks.  You can deny privilege exists all you want, but try telling that to the myriad of black men who have been stopped without reason, followed more closely and deemed to be more criminal.  And there’s also telling about the disparities in perspectives about situations like these. Perceptions are powerful persuaders of reality and unfortunately continue to write the narrative.

And this is what makes situations like this so discouraging and disheartening. When anger at injustices flare, the discomfort begins to control the narrative and tell people, Black people, their concerns are unfounded and subtle tones of “get over it” are heard. This is usually accompanied by a recitation of facts, figures and cerebral discussions about how these things are really not worthy of all the fuss if people would just examine statistics as if people with whom these actions resonate can just handle these instances with clinical objectivity. And yet, that is the expectation.

Sadly when this comes from Christians its even worse. As Thabiti Anyabwile reminds us in this post, Spotting Gospel Escapism in Evangelical Circles, often this dismissiveness is couched in a spiritual dress that typically ends up vilifying the one raising concerns as being non-gospel oriented, divisive and just not getting with the Christian program.

Just go along to get along. Know your place. Lower your eyes. Don’t make waves. And it is subtle, very subtle.

2 thoughts on “The Little Things: thoughts on race, compliance and subtle discrimination

  1. Susan December 4, 2014 / 1:50 am

    “there is something telling in the disparity of experiences between police action towards Whites vs. Blacks. You can deny privilege exists all you want, but try telling that to the myriad of black men who have been stopped without reason, followed more closely and deemed to be more criminal. And there’s also telling about the disparities in perspectives about situations like these.”

    My husband found these comments offensive. He said, “How does she know that–that an officer is deeming someone to be more criminal or following someone more closely? White cops shot white guys every day, but you don’t hear about that. If we are looking for a suspect of a certain description we are justified to pull someone over who looks like they might fit the description. White guys are pulled over or questioned for the same reason.”

    A couple of years ago our pastor’s white son was sitting out in a car in his own neighborhood talking with a friend and a black and white stop. They were questioned by police. The pastor’s son posted snide, contemptuous comments on Facebook about the cop and the conversation he had with them, referring to the cop as a doushbag. Our daughter showed us the fb comment. My husband didn’t see the humor in it. He said that there may have been some robberies in the neighborhood and the officer was assessing why they were sitting there. He was doing his job.

    I think that there are probably times when one assumes that the way they are being treated is race related when it might not be that at all. I was once pulled over by a cop for running a stop (which I think I just didn’t come to a complete stop at). The officer asked why I did that. I told him I didn’t know–that I honestly couldn’t remember what I did at that last stop (being in autopilot with my mind elsewhere.). He didn’t like that answer and got pretty testy with me. I just kept telling the truth but that wasn’t making him any happier. He was white. When cops sense that someone is being noncompliant they get irritated. Yeah, cops are sinners too.

    One time my husband and I were driving down a street in our neighborhood and my husband saw a black man walking along. He said, “That’s not good.”, as he took a good look at him. I was irritated about his assumption (which seemed race-based) and that he was determined to keep an eye on him. He finally called a unit. About that time a helicopter started to circle around. Turned out a burglary had just taken place and the man fit the description. He disappeared.

    I learned something that day. There was something about that man–something more that just his skin color, that told my husband that he was not where he should be and that he was up to no good. After that I respected his long-trained ability to spot what I couldn’t see, and I realized that I couldn’t assume his reaction to be born out of racial bias. That was years ago. About a month ago the same thing happened with a white guy riding a bike through our neighborhood. I wouldn’t have thought anything of this guy, but my husband could tell by the way he was riding hither-hither through the neighborhood that he was to be watched.

    On another note. We had a Ugandan couple join us for Thanksgiving dinner. This man told us of his days working a high-level job for an oil company in Texas. He arrived at a situation one day that only he was qualified and capable of solving but there was a white man there who wouldn’t have anything to do with him. More recently he and his wife were sitting in the foyer at church as a man was passing out something to people sitting around, but he kept passing by them. It was rather obvious after awhile that it was deliberate. So yes, there are racial biases, and there are many other prejudices that people have toward certain “others”. And this Ugandan man said that in Uganda there are blacks who are very prejudice toward whites as well.

    I don’t doubt for a second that there are times when blacks feel avoided, overlooked, looked down upon by some, and it is in fact because someone, or a group, think lesser of them. I would probably know that feeling more if I lived in a part of the world where I stood out as a minority. I’m sure it hurts sometimes and it’s unfair. But it is also prejudice to think that a cop who pulls over or questions a black man who is innocent is doing something wrong or simply making an inappropriate race-based assumption. It cuts both ways.

    I appreciated Frank Sontag’s radio program today in the LA area. He avoided all discussion of either of the recent cases and just talked about what the Bible says about being submissive to authority–to the powers that be whom God places over us–including law-inforcement. Good discussion with some interesting calls. One girl said, “If I don’t like the way an officer is treating me then I’m not going to do what he says.” Frank told her she was wrong, and her scriptural reasoning was wrong. Good points were made.

    BTW, officer Wilson had been handling a call where a two year old black child was having difficulty breathing when he was radioed about the Brown robbery, but he stayed with the mother and child until an emergency vehicle arrived to make sure that the child was OK before he responded to the call. He didn’t leave the black child because he didn’t care about the life of the black child.

    The evening the grand jury decision was read my husband went to bed saying, Ferguson will burn tonight. My husband went through the Rodney King riots. He longed to move to Colorado after that, and many officers moved to Orange County in the wake of that.

    My husband also comment tonight that the predominantly black neighborhoods in our city are the most dangerous areas to work in. Who was it? Charles Barkley? who said that he respects cops who work in black neighborhoods. My husband said, yeah, because he knows how dangerous they can be. I often think that if we could live a day in the other person’s shoes we would understand much better. It’s true for minorities and it’s true for police officers.

    Anyway, Blessings Lisa! I’d give you a squeeze if I could 🙂

  2. Tiribulus December 24, 2014 / 9:48 am

    I’m still waiting for somebody to show me a biblical example of God’s people being told to actually seek justice from the world. Rome in the case of the New Testament. The general principle of subduing evil by the magistrate is taught (Romans 13:4 for instance), but where are we told to expect righteous judgement from a confused godless pagan government like we have in this country? That did NOT start with Barack Obama btw.

    Christians had better wake themselves up. No matter what color we are, we are brethren in both Adams. Blood bought and eternally (literally) closer than what part of the freakin world our ancestor are from.

    There is persecution coming to this continent that we sniveling pampered, entertainment addicted, American Christians think can only happen everywhere else because WE live here. There is a day coming, almost certainly in the lifetime of some already born, when ALL the “races” on one side WILL be oppressing and maybe even killing ALL the races on the other. The difference will be J.E.S.U.S. Not the amount of melanin in our soon to be dead skin.

    This is a Satanic, demonic distraction designed to turn the church on herself and it’s working. I’m not pointing my finger at black people either. I go to a 95% black church with all black senior leadership, though I was born fair skinned blonde n blue. I know black Christians who think that their biggest threat is white America and I know white Christians who think black folks are barely civilized jungle people whose containment is an ever precarious necessity. Ferguson does nothing to dissuade them of this tragic misapprehension of reality.

    This shouldn’t be news, but apparently it is. Our real enemy is NOT society and it’s NOT each other. We have a common enemy who delights in seeing us divided and neutralized, not even over doctrine, but over what paint job God has given us. Easy for a white man to say? Maybe. That doesn’t matter though. What does matter is whether I’m wrong or not. We are being propagandized for a slaughter. Every nation, kindred and tongue for the name of Jesus Christ. I promise you, race and ethnicity will not matter then. We better get prepared and make it stop mattering IN THE CHURCH…… NOW!.

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